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Mommy Musings - Evolution Of Language

POSTED November 3, 2010 10:04 a.m.
The topic of this week’s column is one that has been weighing on my mind for quite some time. Intellectually speaking, I’ve pondered how to make a point without offending any one particular reader group. Recently as I struggled with the topic I realized, as a newspaper there is no way possible to make everyone happy all the time. So … with that said … here goes nothing.
I am gay.
For those who truly know me, the context of this word is being read in the way it was intended. For the rest of our readers, no need to stare at the page with your mouth gaping open. I am not outing myself, but rather using this word to demonstrate the diversity of the English language.
I am not ‘Gay’ in the way the word is more commonly used in today’s society. While I love women and can appreciate their beauty, brains and personalities, I am not attracted to them in a way that would make a woman my life partner. I am a happily married heterosexual mother of two.
But … I am gay.
By this I mean I am … well, happy.
I recently shared an in depth discussion regarding word choice and the power of the English language with my editor. This conversation was prompted by a reader who disagreed with the usage of a word I had used in a story.
As my editor and I discussed the word and its many definitions, I threw out the word gay as an example of the many ways our language is used. The interesting thing to me is that, as a word becomes more commonly used, all other definitions seem to be less recognized.
Case in point, if I were to say, ‘I am gay’ in the early 1900s there would be no question as to the context of the word. Readers would automatically read that word as happy. At present, I would venture to guess that any reader under the age of 25 reading that sentence would assume I am attracted to women. This would not be accurate.
Sentence structure and presentation, of course, also help set up proper usage of words with varying definitions and as journalists we hope our readers are able to follow our thoughts.
I guess what I am getting at is simple. As much as we would like it to be, the English language is not always literal.
Another example of this would be the way in which we use color to demonstrate our feelings and emotions. Sentences such as, ‘I’m blue today’ or ‘She is green with envy’ clearly are not descriptions of a person’s actual color. These colors are used to describe mood.
Adding to this interesting topic is the even more confusing world of name spelling. As the person elected to type up the baby announcements for our three publications, I can honestly say that I never knew there were so many ways to spell John, Michelle, Kayla or Michael.
In fact, my experience with handling baby announcements has made me so guarded that I have even asked people with the last name of Smith to please spell that for me. Of course, such a question always prompts a look of disbelief. Early on in this business I learned a very important lesson and that is we are not in the business of assumptions, we are in the business of facts — even with something as simple as a name.
Being named Teresa in a country that most commonly spells it ‘Theresa’ was not easy as a child. I can recall one year when there were three Teresas in my class. I was the only one without an ‘h,’ so the other two became Terry and Terri. I remained Teresa.
Fast forward 37 years and I am now faced with the same hurdle with my 3-year-old Maddy or Madelyn. Her name was predestined for her by a childhood friend, who passed away just short of college graduation. My husband and I were introduced by my friend Madelyn and decided when she passed if we ever had a daughter, she would be her namesake.
Now, in pre-school there are all sorts of Madelines and Madisons also known as Maddie. So, of course our daughter complicates it a little bit. To me it’s simple, the latter part of her name does not hold an ‘i’ or ‘e’ so why would her nickname. But who thinks of all that really? Honestly, I really never did until I had to explain the spelling of Maddy more times than I cared to. It was the ‘Teresa with no h’ flashback.
This brings us full circle; the English language is an amazing yet complicated thing. Words, like names often have multiple meanings, as well as spellings and ultimately it is up to the user to make certain the manner in which they are being used is portrayed appropriately.

Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at thammond@oakdaleleader.com or by calling 847-3021.
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